Boston, MA 'Molasses Flood' Tank Explosion, Jan 1919

Molasses Flood photo submitted by Stu Beitler Molasses Flood photo submitted by Stu Beitler Molasses Flood photo submitted by Stu Beitler

DOZEN KILLED, 50 HURT, AS TANK OF MOLASSES BURST

Wreckage Covered with Sticky Stream of 2,000,000 Gallons.

3 FIREMEN BURIED.

Building Sucked Into Street by Receding Tide - Car Blown from Tracks.

BOSTON, Jan. 15. -- Probably a dozen persons were killed and 50 injured by the explosion of a huge tank of molasses on the waterfront off Commercial street, today. Tonight the only bodies identified were those of a fireman, GEORGE LEAHY, and two residents of tenements in the vicinity, MRS. BRIDGET CLOUGHERTY and WILLIAM A. DURFEE. A large number of the injured were taken to the Relief hospital.
The tank was owned by the Purity Distilling company a subsidiary of the U. S. Industrial Alcohol company of Cambridge. Two million gallons of molasses rushed in a mighty stream over the streets and converted into a sticky mass the wreckage of several small buildings which had been smashed by the force of the explosion.
The greatest mortality apparently occurred in a city building where a score om[sic] municipal employes were eating their lunch. The structure was demolished. Another city building also was torn from its foundations and two women occupants were severely injured.
A section of the tank wall fell on a fire house crushing it. Three firemen including LEAHY who was killed, were buried in the ruins. The rest of the tank wall crashed against the elevated structure of the Boston elevated railway in Commercial street damaging three spans, suspending all traffic on the line which connects the north and south stations.
Sucked by Tide.
A small dwelling on Copps Hills terrace slid into the street, apparently sucked down by the receding tide of molasses. MRS. CLOUGHERTY was thrown through a window and killed.
A trolley freight car on the street was blown from the tracks. Several persons passing were knocked down. It was thought tonight that DURFEE was one of these.
Wagons, carts and motor trucks were overturned. A number of horses were killed.
Sailors' Rescue Party.
The first rescue party was a squad detailed from the State Nautical school ship Nantucket. Scores of ambulances army, navy, police, hospital and Red Cross, were quickly on the scene. The bodies recovered were taken to the Northern Mortuary and the injured were hurried to Relief hospital. Many firemen and city employes began the task of removing the wreckage.
Flood Hampers Work.
The work of all the men was greatly hampered by the oozing flood of molasses. It covered the street and the surrounding district to a depth of several inches and very slowly drained down into the harbor. To hasten this process the firemen turned on several streams of water.
By nightfall all of the injured had been cared for, and nine bodies had been taken to the mortuary. Throughout the night the search for additional bodies in the wreckage was kept up.
The district was closely patrolled tonight.
During the night two other bodies were identified as those of JAMES LENNON, a motorman, and JOHN M. SEIBERLICH, a blacksmith, both of the Roxbury district. LENNON was a brother-in-law of the late JOHN L. SULLIVAN, the prize fighter.
The men killed were teamsters and employes of the city who were at work in the city street department yard adjoining the electric freight yard where the explosion occurred.
The molasses spread over the street to a depth of two or three inches. Many of those killed or injured were covered with molasses and could not be readily identified.
Buildings Crumble.
Fragments of the great tank were thrown into the air, buildings in the neighborhood crumbled up as though the underpinnings had been pulled away from them, and scores of people in the various buildings were buried in the ruins.
Firemen Blown into Harbor.
The explosion knocked over the fireboat house of Engine 47. One of the firemen was blown into the harbor. Two others were pinned in the ruins and a fourth was not accounted for.
A nearby tenement house fell in. Two women and a man were taken from the ruins, all injured.
Thirty-five persons were removed to hospitals and many others received medical attention and were sent to their homes.
Eighteen city employes, eating their noon luncheon in an office building in the public service yard were caught in the building when it collapsed. Virtually every man in the structure was either killed or hurt.
Among the identified dead was JAMES LENNON, a brother-in-law of the late JOHN L. SULLIVAN, and OWEN GORMAN. Both were employes in the painting department.
The police tonight still were searching the district for possible additional victims.

Bridgeport Standard Telegram Connecticut 1919-01-16

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Molasses Flood

On this day .... in 1919, people in Boston's North End were startled by a loud rumbling noise. They watched in horror as a five-story tank broke apart, unleashing a wave of molasses 15 feet high and 160 feet wide. Moving at 35 miles per hour, it traveled over two blocks and engulfed everything in its path. The disaster killed 21 people, injured 150, and caused property damage of more than 100,000,000 in today's dollars. The tank's owners claimed that anarchists had dynamited it as a protest against the American government. In fact, the tank had been hastily constructed and overloaded. Years later, the tank's owner was found liable and ordered to pay compensation to the victims.

Massachusetts Moments
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